By Michael Rizzo
About 200 of the faithful including deacons, their wives, family and friends came to the Immaculate Conception Center (ICC) on Oct. 14 for a Convocation Mass to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Diaconate Ordination Class of 1992.
The Mass and reception afterwards ended a day of meetings for deacons from across the diocese. Deacons Lee Williams and Abel Torres are the only two remaining members of the Class of 1992 who could be in Douglaston that Saturday. They represented six classmates who are deceased as well as Deacons Angel Rivera, Jose Ruiz and Juan Vargas who could not attend.
“I can’t believe it,” 84-year-old Deacon Williams said, standing outside the main chapel at ICC and referring to his quarter century of service.
“I find it very easy and rewarding to help others,” he added. “From counseling to bringing Communion to the homebound. I’ve tried to point out to people how God cares for them.”
Deacon Williams is in St. Mary Magdalene parish, Springfield Gardens. Deacon Torres, who turned 78 in July, serves in Holy Name of Jesus, Windsor Terrace. He called Deacon Williams an inspiration. Deacon Torres also said his life has changed for the better since his ordination.
“I’ve learned to love the Word of God,” he said. “These 25 years have been filled with knowledge and spirituality in God. I have more faith now.”
The men also acknowledged the presence of another important person throughout each of their diaconates: their wives. Both women were at Douglaston with their husbands.
Mrs. Elisa Torres has been a lector, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a leader of her parish’s charismatic group.
“We are living more in peace,” she said about being married to Deacon Torres. “We are working together in the Church.”
Mrs. Bettye Williams said her husband’s participation in the diaconate has done a lot for him and she has benefitted too.
“I am active in my church because this is what I want to do and the Lord wants me to do it,” she said.
“The Lord is blessing me and my wife and we are truly living together in faith,” Deacon Williams added.
At the Convocation Mass, with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio as the main celebrant, Deacon Williams proclaimed the Gospel and Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Torres were presented with flowers as symbols of thanks. Two widows of deacons from the Class of 1992 also attended the liturgy and were similarly honored.
Margaret Mary Dennehy came to represent her late husband John, and Mary Joesten was there for her husband Edward. At the end of the liturgy, Deacon Torres exhorted the congregation to go in peace, but it was bittersweet for Mrs. Dennehy.
“I’m joyful but sad,” said the parishioner of St. Anastasia’s, Douglaston, of being at the Mass but without her husband who passed away last November.
“He loved being a deacon,” she said. “He’d go to hospitals, nursing homes. He’d visit the sick anywhere and everywhere. He never counted the cost.”
Dennehy’s son Timothy, who is now 24, has always known his father as a deacon.
“Deacons may not be priests,” he said, “but they are just as religious, just as important.”
“Give, give, give, that’s what he did,” said family friend Nina Sanfilippo about Deacon Dennehy.
At Mass and at the dinner afterwards, Bishop DiMarzio thanked the Class of 1992 and said the diocese appreciates the work of all deacons and their vocations. In his blessing, he called this a day of rejoicing and asked God to give deacons strength to complete their work.
It is work that neither Deacon Williams nor Deacon Torres are giving up anytime soon.
“If the Lord gives me the next 25 years to serve, I’ll take it,” Deacon Torres said.
“I love serving the Lord,” Deacon Williams added.
One thing both men can look forward to is the celebration the diocese is planning for next April to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Permanent Diaconate in the United States.